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Song of the South is a feature film produced by Walt Disney, released on November 12, 1946, by RKO Radio Pictures and based on the Uncle Remus cycle of stories by Joel Chandler Harris. The live actors provide a sentimental frame story, in which Uncle Remus relates the folk tales of the adventures of Brer Rabbit and his friends. These anthropomorphic animal characters appear in animation. The hit song from the film was "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah", which won the 1947 Academy Award for Best Song and is frequently used as part of Disney's montage themes. The film inspired the Disney theme park ride Splash Mountainmarker.

The film has never been released in its entirety on home video in the USAmarker because of content which Disney executives believe would be construed by some as racially insensitive towards blacks and is thus subject to much rumor. Some portions of this film have been issued on VHS and DVD as part of either compilations or special editions of Disney films.



The setting is the Deep South, shortly after the American Civil War. Seven-year-old Johnny is excited about what he believes to be a vacation at his grandmother's Georgia plantation with his parents, John Sr. and Sally. When they arrive at the plantation, he discovers that his parents will be living apart for a while and he is to live in the country with his mother and grandmother while his father returns to Atlantamarker to continue his controversial editorship in the city's newspaper. Johnny, distraught because his father has never left him or his mother before, leaves that night under cover of darkness and sets off for Atlanta with only a bindle. As Johnny sneaks away from the plantation, he is attracted by the voice of Uncle Remus, telling tales "in his old-timey way" of a character named Br'er Rabbit. Curious, Johnny hides behind a nearby tree to spy on the group of people sitting around the fire. By this time, word has gotten out that Johnny is gone and the servants, who are sent out to find him, ask if Uncle Remus has seen the boy. Uncle Remus replies that he's with him. Shortly afterwards, he catches up with Johnny who sits crying on a nearby log. He befriends the young boy and offers him some food for the journey, taking him back to his cabin.

As Uncle Remus cooks, he mentions Br'er Rabbit again and the boy, curious, asks him to tell him more. After Uncle Remus tells a tale about Br'er Rabbit's attempt to run away from home, Johnny takes the advice and changes his mind about leaving the plantation, letting Uncle Remus take him back to his mother. Johnny makes friends with Toby, a little black boy who lives on the plantation, and Ginny Favers, a poor white neighbor. However, Ginny's two older brothers, Joe and Jake (who are meant to resemble Br'er Fox and Br'er Bear "a big Bubba" from Uncle Remus's stories, for one is slick and fast-talking, while the other is big and a little slow), are not friendly at all. They constantly bully Ginny and Johnny. When Ginny gives Johnny a puppy, her brothers want to drown it. A fight breaks out among the three boys. Heartbroken because his mother won't let him keep the puppy, Johnny takes the dog to Uncle Remus and tells him of his troubles. Uncle Remus takes the dog in and delights Johnny and his friends with the fable of Br'er Rabbit and the Tar Baby, stressing that people shouldn't go messing around with something they have no business with in the first place.

Johnny heeds the advice of how Br'er Rabbit used reverse psychology on Br'er Fox and begs the Favers boys not to tell their mother about the dog, which is precisely what they do, only to get a good spanking for it. Enraged, the boys vow revenge. They go to the plantation and tell Johnny's mother, who is upset that Uncle Remus kept the dog despite her order (which was unknown to Uncle Remus). She orders the old man not to tell any more stories to her son. The day of Johnny's birthday arrives, and Johnny picks up Ginny to take her to his party. Ginny's mother has used her wedding dress to make her a beautiful dress for the party. On the way there, however, Joe and Jake pick another fight. Ginny gets pushed, and ends up in a mud puddle. With her dress ruined, Ginny refuses to go to the party. Johnny doesn't want to go either, especially since his father won't be there. Uncle Remus discovers the two dejected children and cheers them by telling the story of Br'er Rabbit and his "Laughing Place".

When Uncle Remus returns to the plantation with the children, Sally meets them on the way and is angry at Johnny for not having attended his own birthday party. Ginny mentions that Uncle Remus told them a story and Sally draws the line, warning him not to spend any more time with Johnny. Uncle Remus, saddened by the misunderstanding of his good intentions, packs his bags and leaves for Atlanta. Seeing Uncle Remus leaving from a distance, Johnny rushes to intercept him, taking a shortcut through the pasture, where he is attacked and seriously injured by the resident bull. While Johnny hovers between life and death, his father returns and reconciles with Sally. But Johnny calls for Uncle Remus, who had returned in all the commotion. Uncle Remus begins telling a tale of Br'er Rabbit and the Laughing Place, and the boy miraculously survives.


There are three animated segments in the movie (with total of 25 minutes). These animated sequences were also shown as stand-alone cartoon features on the Disney television show. Each of these segments features at least one song that is heard in the various versions of Splash Mountainmarker:
  • "Brer Rabbit Runs Away": about 8 minutes, including the song "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah".
  • "The Tar Baby": about 12 minutes, interrupted with a short live action scene about two thirds of the way into the cartoon, including the song "How Do You Do?"
  • "Brer Rabbit's Laughing Place": about 5 minutes and the only segment that doesn't use Uncle Remus as an intro to its main story, including the song "Everybody's Got a Laughing Place"
The last couple of minutes of the movie contain animation, as most of the cartoon characters show up in a live-action world to meet the live-action characters (a combination of live-action and animation), and in the last seconds of the movie, the real world is slowly merged into an animated variation as the main protagonists walk off into the sunset.


Songs featured in the film include:
  • "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah"
  • "Song of the South"
  • "Uncle Remus Said"
  • "Everybody's Got a Laughing Place"
  • "How Do You Do?"
  • "Sooner or Later"
  • "Who Wants to Live Like That?"
  • "Let the Rain Pour Down"
  • "All I Want"

The song "Look at the Sun" is marketed as one of the songs from the movie, though it is not actually in the film.

"Let the Rain Pour Down" is set to the melody of "Midnight Special," a traditional blues song popularized by Lead Belly.

There are only five minutes of the movie without any music.

History and production

Walt Disney had long wanted to make a film based on the Uncle Remus storybook, but it wasn't until the mid-1940s that he had found a way to give the stories an adequate film equivalent, in scope and fidelity. "I always felt that Uncle Remus should be played by a living person," Disney is quoted as saying, "as should also the young boy to whom Harris' old Negro philosopher relates his vivid stories of the Briar Patch. Several tests in previous pictures, especially in The Three Caballeros, were encouraging in the way living action and animation could be dovetailed. Finally, months ago, we 'took our foot in hand,' in the words of Uncle Remus, and jumped into our most venturesome but also more pleasurable undertaking."

Disney first began to negotiate with Harris' family for the rights in 1939, and by late summer of that year he already had one of his storyboard artists summarize the more promising tales and draw up four boards' worth of story sketches. In November 1940, Disney visited the Harris' home in Atlantamarker. He told Variety that he wanted to "get an authentic feeling of Uncle Remus country so we can do as faithful a job as possible to these stories." Roy Oliver Disney had misgivings about the project, doubting that it was "big enough in caliber and natural draft" to warrant a budget over $1 million and more than twenty-five minutes of animation, but in June 1944, Walt hired Southern-born writer Dalton Reymond to write the screenplay, and he met frequently with King Vidor, whom he was trying to interest in directing the live-action sequences.

Production started under the title Uncle Remus. Filming began in December 1944 in Phoenix, where the studio had constructed a plantation and cotton fields for outdoor scenes, and Walt Disney left for the location to oversee what he called "atmospheric shots." Back in Hollywood, the live action scenes were filmed at the Samuel Goldwyn Studio.


Dalton Reymond wrote a treatment for the film. Because Reymond was not a professional screenwriter, Maurice Rapf, who had been writing live-action features at the time, was asked by the Walt Disney Company to work with Reymond to turn the treatment into a shootable screenplay. According to Neal Gabler, one of the reasons Disney had hired Rapf to work with Reymond was to temper what Disney feared would be Reymond's white Southern slant.

Rapf was a minority, a Jew, and an outspoken left-winger, and he himself feared that the film would inevitably be Uncle Tomish.
"That's exactly why I want you to work on it," Walt told him, "because I know that you don't think I should make the movie.
You're against Uncle Tomism, and you're a radical."

Rapf initially hesitated, but when he found out that most of the film would be live-action and that he could make extensive changes, he accepted the offer. Rapf worked on Uncle Remus for about seven weeks. When he got into a personal dispute with Reymond, Rapf was taken off the project. According to Rapf, Walt Disney "ended every conference by saying 'Well, I think we've really licked it now. Then he'd call you the next morning and say, 'I've got a new idea.' And he'd have one. Sometimes the ideas were good, sometimes they were terrible, but you could never really satisfy him." Morton Grant was assigned to the project. Disney sent out the script for comment both within the studio and outside the studio.


Song of the South was the first live action dramatic film made by Disney. James Baskett got the job of portraying Uncle Remus after answering an ad to provide the voice of a talking butterfly. "I thought that, maybe, they'd try me out to furnish the voice for one of Uncle Remus' animals," Baskett is quoted as saying. Upon review of his voice, Disney wanted to meet Baskett personally, and had him tested for the role of Uncle Remus. Not only did Baskett get the part of the butterfly's voice, but also the voice of Br'er Fox and the live-action role of Uncle Remus as well. Additionally, Baskett filled in as the voice of Br'er Rabbit for Johnny Lee in the "Laughing Place" scene after Lee was called away to do promotion for the picture. Walt Disney liked Baskett, and told his sister, Ruth Disney, that Baskett was "the best actor, I believe, to be discovered in years." Even after the film's release, Walt stayed in contact with Baskett. Disney also campaigned for Baskett to be given an Academy Award for his performance, saying that he had worked "almost wholly without direction" and had devised the characterization of Remus himself. Thanks to Disney's efforts, Baskett won an honorary Oscar in 1948. After Baskett's death, his widow wrote Disney and told him that he had been a "friend indeed and [we] certainly have been in need."

Also cast in the production were child actors Bobby Driscoll, Luana Patten and Glenn Leedy. Driscoll was the first actor to be under a personal contract with the Disney studio. Patten was a professional model since age 3, and caught the attention of Disney when she appeared on the cover of "Woman's Home Companion" magazine. Leedy was discovered on the playground of the Booker T. Washington school in Phoenix, AZmarker by a talent scout from the Disney studio. Ruth Warrick and Erik Rolf, cast as Johnny's mother and father, had actually been married during filming, but divorced in 1946. Hattie McDaniel also appeared in the role of Aunt Tempy.


The animated segments of the film were directed by Wilfred Jackson, while the live-action segments were directed by Harve Foster. On the final day of shooting, Jackson discovered that the scene in which Uncle Remus sings the film's signature song, "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah," had not been properly blocked. According to Jackson, "We all sat there in a circle with the dollars running out, and nobody came up with anything. Then Walt suggested that they shoot Baskett in close-up, cover the lights with cardboard save for a sliver of blue sky behind his head, and then remove the cardboard from the lights when he began singing so that he would seem to be entering a bright new world of animation. Like Walt's idea for Bambi on ice, it made for one of the most memorable scenes in the film."


The film premiered on November 12, 1946 at the Fox Theatremarker in Atlanta, Georgiamarker. James Baskett was unable to attend the film's premiere because he would not have been allowed to participate in any of the festivities, as Atlanta was then a racially segregated city. The film grossed $3.3 million at the box office.

As had been done earlier with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Walt Disney produced a Sunday strip titled Uncle Remus & His Tales of Brer Rabbit to give the film pre-release publicity. The strip was launched by King Features on October 14, 1945, more than a year before the film was released. Unlike the Snow White comic strip, which only adapted the movie, Uncle Remus ran for decades, telling one story after another about the characters, some based on the legends and others new, until it ended on December 31, 1972. Apart from the newspaper strips, Disney Brer Rabbit comics were also produced for comic books; the first such stories appeared in late 1946. Produced both by Western Publishing and European publishers such as Egmont, they continue to appear to this day.[9705]


Although the film was a financial success, some critics were less responsive to the film. Bosley Crowther wrote in The New York Times, "More and more, Walt Disney's craftsmen have been loading their feature films with so-called 'live action' in place of their animated whimsies of the past, and by just those proportions has the magic of these Disney films decreased," citing the ratio of live action to animation at two to one, concluding that is "approximately the ratio of its mediocrity to its charm." However, the film also received positive notice. Time magazine called the film "topnotch Disney." In 2003, the Online Film Critics Society ranked the film as the 67th greatest animated film of all time.

Accusations of racism

Even early in the film's production, there was concern that the material would encounter controversy. As the writing of the screenplay was getting under way, Disney publicist Vern Caldwell wrote to producer Perce Pearce that "The negro situation is a dangerous one. Between the negro haters and the negro lovers there are many chances to run afoul of situations that could run the gamut all the way from the nasty to the controversial."

When the film was first released, the NAACP acknowledged "the remarkable artistic merit" of the film, but decried the "impression it gives of an idyllic master-slave relationship."

Academy Award recognition

The score by Daniele Amfitheatrof, Paul J. Smith, and Charles Wolcott was nominated in the "Scoring of a Musical Picture" category, and Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah, Written by Allie Wrubel won the award for Best Song at the 20th Academy Awards on March 20, 1948. A special Academy Award was given "To James Baskett for his able and heart-warming characterization of Uncle Remus, friend and story teller to the children of the world in Walt Disney's 'Song of the South.'"Bobby Driscoll and Luana Patten in their portrayals of the children characters Johnny and Ginny were also discussed for Special Juvenile Awards, but in 1947 it was decided not to present such awards at all.

Releases and availability

Although the film has been re-released several times (most recently in 1986), the Disney corporation has avoided making it directly available on home video in the United States because the frame story was deemed controversial by studio management, despite Uncle Remus being the hero of the story. Film critic Roger Ebert, who normally disdains any attempt to keep films from any audience, has supported the non-release position, claiming that most Disney films become a part of the consciousness of American children, who take films more literally than do adults. However, he favors allowing film students to have access to the film. In the U.S., only excerpts from the movie, including the "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah" number and the animated segments have ever appeared in Disney's DVDs (such as the 2004 two-disc release of Alice in Wonderland (1951) and the long-running Walt Disney anthology television series). The popular log-flume attraction Splash Mountainmarker (opened in 1989) is based upon the same animated portions.

Despite rumors of a forthcoming DVD release, Disney CEO Robert Iger stated on March 10, 2006 at a Disney Shareholder Meeting that it had been decided that the company would not re-release it for the time being. At the annual shareholders meeting in March 2007, Iger announced that the company was reconsidering the decision, and have decided to look into the possibility of releasing the film. In May 2007, it was again reported that the Disney company has chosen not to release the film. However, rumors to the contrary continue to surface.

Disney Enterprises has allowed key portions of the film to be issued on many VHS compilation videos in the U.S. Most recently, the "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah" number and some of the animated portion of the movie were issued on the Alice in Wonderland 2-DVD Special Edition set, although in that instance this was originally incorporated as part of a 1950 Walt Disney TV special included on the DVD which promoted the then-forthcoming Alice in Wonderland film.

The film has been released on video in its entirety in various European, Latin American and Asian countries—in the UK it was released on PAL VHS tape, and in Japan (where under Japanese copyright law it is in the public domain) it appeared on NTSC VHS, BETA and laserdisc with subtitles, while a NTSC laserdisc was bootlegged in Hong Kong from the UK PAL videotape. Despite the Hong Kong laserdisc being NTSC, it has a 4% faster running time due to its PAL source, and thus also suffers from "frame ghosting". While most foreign releases of the film are almost direct translations of the English title (Canción del Sur in Spanish, Mélodie du Sud in French, Melodie Van Het Zuiden in Dutch, Sången om södern in Swedish, A Canção do Sul in Portuguese, and Etelän laulu in Finnish), the German title Onkel Remus' Wunderland translates to "Uncle Remus' Wonderland", the Italian title I Racconti Dello Zio Tom translates to "The Stories of Uncle Tom.", and the Norwegian title Onkel Remus forteller translates roughly to "Uncle Remus tells stories".

Despite the film's lack of home video release directly to consumers in the United States, audio from the film—both the musical soundtrack and dialogue—were made widely available to the public from the time of the film's debut up through the late 1970s. In particular, many Book-and-Record sets were released, alternately featuring the animated portions of the film or summaries of the film as a whole. Additionally, bootleg copies of the film in NTSC format, converted either from the UK PAL videotape or from a Dutch version based on the laserdisc, with subtitles made by amateurs, are widely available and have been sold in the United States at retail outlets and on online auctions with no legal action being taken by the Disney corporation.

Pop culture references

Besides Splash Mountainmarker, the log flume rides based upon the animated segments, there have been several references to the film in popular culture.

A TV Funhouse cartoon from a season 31 episode (featuring Lindsay Lohan and Pearl Jam) of NBC's long-running sketch show Saturday Night Live parodied many things related to Walt Disney and The Walt Disney Company. In the cartoon, two kids watch an "uncut" version of Song of the South showing Uncle Remus singing the dubbed lines "Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-ay / Negroes are inferior in every way" and "Whites are much cleaner, that's what I say." Actual footage from the movie was used.

An episode of the BBC radio series I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again used the film as the basis of a sketch, with David Hatch reading the story in a "Received Pronunciation" (i.e. the South of Englandmarker) accent. He claims that this is how people speak in Bognormarker, which is as far south as he's ever been.


  1. Bobby Driscoll biography at Song of the
  2. In a 15 October 1946 article in the Atlanta Constitution, columnist Harold Martin noted that to bring Baskett to Atlanta, where he would not have been allowed to participate in any of the festivities, "would cause him many embarrassments, for his feelings are the same as any man's." The modern claim that no Atlanta hotel would give Baskett accommodation is false: there were several black-owned hotels in the Sweet Auburn area of downtown Atlanta at the time, including the Savoy and the McKay. Atlanta's Black-Owned Hotels: A History.
  3. Song of the South opened in Los Angeles in 1947, which became its qualification year for the awards.
  4. Audio of Robert Iger's statement can be heard here
  5. " Japanese Court Rules Pre-1953 Movies in Public Domain",, December 7, 2006.
  6. The Saturday Night Live skit with dubbed lyrics

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